Keeping Invertebrates

Invertebrates are creatures without backbones and invertebrates with legs are known as arthropods.  This group includes arachnids (spiders and scorpions), insects (praying mantis and stick insects), myriapods  (centipedes and millipedes) and crustaceans (crabs and shrimps).

Invertebrates can make very unusual and interesting exotic pets.  Whether you are thinking of buying a pet tarantula, scorpion or praying mantis, whatever type of invert you’re interested in you will need to carefully research how to care for them.  You will need to provide them with a suitable tank and habitat, with correct levels of heat, light and humidity, and feed them the appropriate food.  Some inverts can be handled, whereas others are best left to be observed, so bear this in mind when choosing your pet.

There are several good points about keeping invertebrates as pets.  They are small, so their tank shouldn’t take up much space and they are easy to keep clean, with hardly any odour.  However, some, particularly scorpions and tarantulas, have poisonous stings or painful bites and can be potentially dangerous, so these are best for experienced pet owners rather than beginners.

Housing

The type of enclosure you need depends on what type of creature your invertebrate is.  Purpose built terrariums for terrestrial (land living) and arboreal (tree living) species can be purchased from exotic pet shops.  Some owners adapt aquariums by adding a screen top for ventilation.

Heating & Lighting

A lot of invertebrates are nocturnal, so many owners fit a lamp with a blue or red light bulb so they can see their pets’ night time activities.  For species that are active during the day, such as praying mantis, UV bulbs can be used for both light and heat.  Heat lamps or pads can be used to create a hot area in an enclosure for a creature that would live in a hot, arid environment in the wild, but it’s important to also provide a cool place in the tank for them to shelter.  Be aware that a glass tank or aquarium can get really hot if left in a sunny place, so be careful to keep it out of direct sunlight.

Humidity

Check before you buy your pet how often you need to mist the tank to maintain the correct moisture and humidity levels.   For creatures from tropical habitats, you may need to spray the tank with water once or twice a day, whereas a drip system where water slowly drips into a container is another option for creatures from less damp environments.

Substrates

There are various materials you can use to cover the floor of your vivarium.  Bedding made from coconut mixed with sand is commercially available and as well as looking natural, it helps to stop mould or fungus growing in humid enclosures.  Peat moss and sand is another option, which is good for holding moisture.  Some keepers simply use paper towels for small pets such as tarantulas, which have the advantage of being cheap and easy to change.  Find out before you purchase your pet what substrate is recommended for them.

Habitat Decor

Rock piles, driftwood and commercially made hiding places and shelters are added to tanks to provide a stimulating environment for inverts in captivity.  Be very careful that anything you place in your enclosure is stable so that doesn’t risk crushing your pet.  Anything you add must be clean and sterilised to prevent infections.

Feeding

Most inverts live on live prey such as crickets or mealworms.  As a general rule, smaller creatures should be fed small prey, and given larger items as they grow.  To maintain a balanced diet, it is best not to rely on just one or two types of prey that are readily available at your local pet shop.  Instead, try to include a variety of different sorts of prey.  Many experienced invertebrate owners raise their own prey, such as crickets or mealworms, so they can control what they are fed and thus provide the most nutrients for their pets.